When putting together this buyer's guide of the best budget acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars, there were three key factors to consider: how does it sound, how does it look and, most importantly for this gallery, how much does it cost?
Undoubtedly one of the most congested areas of the six-string market is the affordable acoustic guitars sector, where there are literally thousands of models and manufacturers to choose from.
This gallery contains the most popular and best-reviewed guitars we found. Among them there are some truly spectacular guitars on offer, acoustics that punch way above their weight and prove that affordable needn't mean cheap and nasty.
Not only do they all sound great, most - if not all - are easy on the eye, and best of all, they all retail at under £500/$650. Some of these guitars will make great first instruments, and some will prove to be trusted partners for life - we'd suggest trying as many as possible...
Washburn Woodline 10 Series WLO12SE
Our WLO12SE model's spec kicks off with a solid mahogany top and laminate mahogany back and sides, protected by a flawless gloss finish and pimped with black binding and light pinstriping.
The slim C profile neck is mahogany, too – this time with a sleek satin feel – and its rosewood 'board is home to 20 thin frets. A set of die-cast machineheads and a well-cut top nut do their bit to keep the WLO12SE tuning in check.
"The WLO12SE is a beautifully realised reminder that you should take the time to narrow your search and find a playing experience and tone that suits your needs perfectly."
The French know a thing or two about looking good, and it's evident here in this very tidily made budget electro.
Its spec is bare bones with a thin satin 'open pore' finish, no edge binding to the top or back and no fingerboard face dot markers.
But it's very well appointed for the cash. There's that distinct soundhole decoration for starters, and a classy-looking bridge with properly compensated saddle – and that's before we even mention the more-than-decent satin black-plated tuners, graphite nut, and well-spec'd preamp with tuner, three-band EQ and phase switch for feedback rejection.
"If the T70DCE seems a little basic, that's not reflected in its performance."
The HG26SCE sports a grand auditorium-sized body with a cutaway for upper fret access.
Washburn has paired the solid cedar top with rosewood back and sides. The body and neck feature wood binding, and there's some pretty mother-of-pearl inlays around the soundhole – aka the rosette – and the cedar top's outer edge.
"If we had to pick a guitar for fingerpickers to, er, pick... we'd, ahem... pick this."
Seagull Entourage Folk Burnt Umber QIT
What's special about the Folk is quite a unique voice, the combination of those laminated wild cherry back and sides, which, says Godin, has "a sound that lands somewhere between the mellow tone of a mahogany guitar and the bright sound of maple", with their cedar tops plus a robust but pretty light build.
It feels, and sounds, obviously, new and a little tight but should hopefully fill out and mellow a little with playing. As is, there's quite a strident tonality to the Folk and, as we've noted before, a hint of acoustic archtop that perhaps suits rootsier and bluesier styles more than pristine, crystalline modern voicings.
"If Seagull isn't on your to-try list, make sure you add it."
A spruce-topped jumbo with plenty of projection and an extremely appealing price tag, the VJ100N isn't Vintage's only appearance in this poll.
The manufacturer has been turning out some incredibly likable and a characterful guitars in the last few years, and the VJ100N is another fine addition to the growing ranks of first rate Vintage acoustics.
BUY: Vintage VJ100N currently available from:
Taylor Big Baby Taylor-e
Taylor is famous for its supremely playable acoustic necks and this model is no exception; in fact, due to its innovative and virtually heel-less design, there's better access to the upper frets with any regular full-body acoustic.
In short, however, this Baby plays like a dream, and when you feel this at home with a guitar you can play anything in any style. Obviously this guitar is not going to sound like a standard Taylor dreadnought; and in fact it's quite surprising to hear how unlike a dreadnought the Big Baby tone is.
This updated take for 2015 features Taylor's new ES-B pickup for piezo tones that don't really sound like a piezo.
"15 years on, and now with the ES2-like ES-B pickup, the 2015 Big Baby is better than ever. An excellent introduction to Taylor, and an ideal second, starter or traveller guitar, too."
The diminutive, but nonetheless fully formed 14-fret OMR-21 exudes class and heritage. It has a solid Sitka spruce top, a satin neck, back and headstock crafted from laminated Indian rosewood and the mahogany neck appears of a high visual grade.
As a starter guitar for the serious student there's little to bemoan here and we suspect the OMR-21 will impress even the more experienced players.
"The perfect steel- string? Damn close. Affordable and classic-looking with a sound that punches above its price."
This Washburn baritone - we'll shorten it's name to LSB, aka Lakeside Baritone - is a large and deep, round-shouldered pre- dreadnought design that debuted in 1912. But the baritone scale length is more contemporary and, if our research is correct, unique.
Acoustic baritones are rare; aside from Taylor, Walden has the futuristic B-1E, and Alvarez's ABT60E is highly affordable. In addition to the bulk of the body, the scale here is the longest we've encountered.
It scored a very respectable 4/5 stars in our tests and we've included it here because a baritone on a budget like this is well worth a nod.
"For any creative musician looking to expand their pitch, this is a great place to start. It won't overly hurt the wallet, either... just your fingers!"
As you might expect from Epiphone's best selling acoustic, the DR-100 is a budget-minded guitar that dispenses with any extravagances in favour of good old-fashioned playability.
The spruce-topped dreadnought is conceived to be an all-rounder, from those first fumbled chords through to, well, wherever you want to go really. It's built to the usual Epiphone high standards, and it's guaranteed to make most guitars at the same price point look a little bit silly.
Martin LX1E Little Martin
It's no surprise that this plucky little Martin is so high in the list - after all, you might as well rename this guitar the Ed Sheeran.
The ginger fury (as literally nobody calls him) has made the LX1 his own, playing the travel-sized acoustic throughout his rise to fame, so it surprised no one when Martin awarded Ed his own signature model (check out our review below).
And really, it's a lot of guitar in a tiny package. Spruce topped, with Martin HPL (that's high pressure laminate, abbreviation fans) back and sides, it projects beautifully and has a wonderfully playable neck.
If you don't mind people asking why you're playing a child's guitar, the LX1 is well worth checking out.
"The Martin LX1E feels a bit utilitarian but packs a very endearing and classic steel-string punch, both acoustically and amplified."
Read our full Martin LX1E Little Martin review
On the face of it, Walden is yet another guitar brand looking to make a dent in the budget acoustic market. But this isn't your average Asian-made guitar; it has a serious boutique pedigree, thanks to the presence of ex-Charles Fox luthier John Lee in the design chair.
This acoustic comes from the most affordable end of the series, and costs just £407. So what? Well, if similarly spec'd guitars were made by Taylor, for example, you'd be looking at paying a couple of grand more.
Oh, and any vintage-obsessives out there, this (like all the 600, 700 and higher-end Walden guitars) features a nitrocellulose finish. On paper at least, here's a brand perfect for our penny-pinching times.
"Like the D810, the near faultless, well-priced all-solid G830 just needs to live a little to really impress."
The proliferation in mahogany-topped acoustics is a development that we wholeheartedly approve of. There's something delightfully earthy in their look, and in our experience, this translates to their tone, too. It's the same with all-mahogany Korean-built acoustic from Sigma.
Should you be looking for a bluesy belter or general all-round acoustic, then the SDM-15 is the no-brainer of all no-brainers. It's got the power to do the business acoustically, and if you require more volume, simply plug into the PA or a small acoustic amp and the onboard Fishman system will provide ballsy backup.
"This guitar has it all: classic looks, quality build, excellent playability, evocative sounds acoustically and plugged in, and an ultra-keen price. What's not to like?"
LAG Tramontane T66A
Where predecessor range, the Four Seasons, were relatively generic in their styling, the Tramontanes (the name comes from a wind that blows across southern France) have a distinctive appearance, thanks to the headstock design borrowed from Lag's Imperator solidbody electrics, where the central portion of the peghead is raised from the outer wings.
As the range's least expensive auditorium, the T66A has an all-laminate build of spruce and mahogany. The absence of a solid top might betray its entry-level status, but nothing else does, because the guitar has a cracking presentation for the money.
"Don't for one minute dismiss the T66A because of its laminated top. It should easily go the distance against similarly priced solid-top rivals, making it something of a snip. This Tramontane is a real find among budget folks."
Faith Naked Series Neptune
Money is tight for us all, and last year Faith took the wraps - and quite a bit more - off the straightforward, clearly cost-effective 'Naked' range.
With the Neptune, you're getting a beautifully constructed baby jumbo stripped of every single unnecessary extra. This is a guitar boiled down to its bare essentials, but don't let that turn you off - the Neptune plays like a dream, and while its utilitarian looks won't be for everyone, we're big fans.
Mahogany is big in the acoustic world at the moment, and Farida's R-15E capitalises on the wood craze with this bargainous electro.
Featuring the company's 'Richtone' body shape (with a narrower waist than a dreadnought), it offers a trim tone that's ideal for strumming and fingerstyle alike.
It's a tidy sound plugged in, too, courtesy of a Fishman Presys Blend system, which boasts both a piezo pickup and built-in mic for supreme control over your amplified sound.
"We're big fans of this guitar and, aside from the rough frets - solved in minutes with a polishing kit - it's highly recommended."
We're getting a sense of déjà vu… That's the thing about acoustic guitars - they all tend to look the same.
As such, you might be forgiven for taking one look at the Yamaha FG700S and assume you've already been there, played that and bought the T-shirt. If there's a more traditional looking model on the market than this entry-level dreadnought, we'll eat our pitch pipes.
No-one's pretending the FG700S looks as wild as your BC Rich, but that's not the point. When you sit down with this model you will soon start to appreciate why it deserves your attention. This is how playing an acoustic should feel, but so rarely does. It's effortless, despite the fairly hefty body size, and doesn't make you sweat to dig out the (considerable) volume.
"A highly playable acoustic with a good tone."
Taylor GS Mini
This travel version of legendary builder Taylor’s Grand Symphony-sized acoustic has proved incredibly popular, in part thanks to its surprisingly full sound.
The impressive depth and projection belies the guitar’s compact body, which features a solid Sitka top and laminate sapele back and sides.
A tight low-end and musical voice make the GS Mini perfect for recording using its built-in ES-Go pickup, while the sparkly highs give you a taste of the classic Taylor sound for minimal outlay.
"More than just a travel guitar, the GS Mini has its own acoustic voice that can easily be amplified with the good-sounding ES-Go pickup. Impossible not to like."
Just look at it! The slotted headstock, the herringbone inlays, the vintage style tuners - this a tasteful little acoustic that subtly demands your fullest attention.
There's something about parlour size guitars that makes us want to sit on a sofa and fingerpick the day away, and this would be the guitar to do it with. Mahogany back and sides, a cedar top, and all those little visual details makes this a steal of a guitar for the money.
Make sure you try one, even if you're not necessarily looking for a smaller bodied guitar - this could be the one to make you think again.
BUY: Vintage V880N currently available from:
Made of pure solid woods, the 511 delivers serious value for money, and its classic pairing of a solid Sitka spruce top with solid Indonesian mahogany back and sides makes for a punchy output when playing big strummed rhythm sounds.
The natural-feeling string spacing makes it just as suited to slapping and fingerpicking, too, while the impressive sustain and range of tones make for a dreadnought that punches well above its price tag.
"While the 511 is not without fault, it's hard to criticise such a considered and realistically priced instrument. Aria has made a very convincing guitar that holds up to scrutiny where it counts."
BUY: Aria 511 currently available from:
Coming from the famed maker of pointy guitars for the likes of Metallica and Deftones, you might not expect much from an LTD acoustic - well, set your preconceptions aside and plug in, and you may be pleasantly surprised.
With a thinline body designed to banish feedback, the TL-6 makes an ideal onstage guitar, and its thin U neck profile and width ensures it plays more like a rock semi than your traditional acoustic.
For electric players picking up an acoustic for the first time, it's a great place to start, and the B-Band Electret Film under-saddle transducer and preamp ensure it really projects on stage.
"At this price, the TL-6 could not only be an ideal onstage electro for loud scenarios but also a source of left-field, treated 'acoustic' tones."
The EL-00 is the sort of guitar you can imagine being nestled in the hands of a long-dead bluesman, in one of those weirdly formal photos from the '20s.
It certainly looks the part, with its tiny parlour sized body, short scale and sweet sunburst finish. Tailor built for playing the blues, if you've ever had a woman leave you, lost your job or attempted to sell your soul to intersection-dwelling demons, this is the guitar for you.
Fender Sonoran SCE
Are you an electric player looking to transition to the acoustic? Or maybe you're simply a person who appreciates style in any context. If that sounds like you, then the Fender Sonoran SCE is the guitar for you.
Rocking that iconic Strat headstock and a host of brightly coloured finishes, it makes standard acoustics look conservative. It's full of lovingly conceived little details, from the gently curving 'Viking' bridge to the chequered inlays, white button tuners and top-notch Fishman Isys III system. A tasty little retro electro with style to burn.
"A good-sounding, great-looking, top value-for-money acoustic: are you ready to be noticed?"
Faith Naked Series Mercury
If the idea behind this Faith was to create a highly affordable, cost-effective guitar, then it's an unqualified success.
But aside from the clean design and impressive attention to detail, this all-solid wood guitar sounds good and plays exceedingly well - especially at the price. If it's sound and playability that you value over unnecessary appointments, this is a very good place to start your search.
"If you pick more than you strum, you need a parlour. The choice is wide, but add this Faith to your list - it's impressive on all levels."
That's right, it's another Vintage - are you getting the message about this brand yet?
With three guitars in this gallery and more models that didn't quite make the cut hovering just outside, one thing is clear: Vintage acoustics have a lot of fans out there.
It's the result of a simple philosophy, of which the central tenet is to build great, affordable guitars that people won't be able to put down - guitars like the V400N.
The most popular Vintage dreadnought in this poll, it's an all-rounder with a nicely balanced tone that you'd be doing a disservice to if you didn't try the next time you're in a guitar shop.
Simon & Patrick Songsmith Concert Hall A3T
Not an under-appreciated 60s folk duo like you might expect, Simon & Patrick are actually the first names of Robert Godin's two sons – and boy, do they know how to make a good acoustic.
One of the Godin empire's first Orchestra-sized acoustics, the Concert Hall offers easy playability thanks to a compact string spacing, plus plenty of modern zing plugged in. A good-looking all-rounder.
Production of Sigma Guitars, the affordable range launched by Martin in the '70s to keep Japanese competitors at bay, ceased in back 2007.
But the brand was recently purchased from Martin by AMI, a German-based distributor of high-end acoustic and classical guitars, and has since been re-launched. Completing something of a complicated circle, Martin Guitars' UK distributor, Westside Distribution, is now importing Sigma Guitars into the UK, and they're currently causing a big splash among acoustic guitarists - not to mention making a big impact on this gallery.
When pitted against a range of similar and more expensive dreadnoughts, the DR-28 performs remarkably well. Tone is obviously a subjective issue but we'd suggest that you'd struggle to find a 'better sounding' dreadnought at this price point.
"A superbly well-built dreadnought, bursting with tone and representing excellent value for money."
An all-mahogany gem of a guitar, the concert sized M-120 is a great looking, great playing acoustic that is the perfect partner for folk pickers or singing strummers.
An affordable Guild with a compact body and small neck, it sounds as good as it looks - and it looks good enough to eat. Double thumbs up from us for this little beaut...
BUY: Guild M-120 currently available from:
Seagull Excursion Natural Folk SG
You may not be familiar with the name, but Seagull is part of Canadian brand Godin, and as such, carries some serious credentials – for one, the construction is top-notch, with sturdy bracing and a smoothly finished fingerboard.
But what the Excursion lacks in looks, it makes up for in its electric-like playability and huge tonality. Its characterful output ensures it sits well in a mix when recording and suits a wide range of styles, too, from blues to jazz.
"The Excursion has become our go-to home guitar. It holds its own with far more expensive guitars and has impressed everyone who's heard it. Put some power back into your acoustic playing and try one."
Yamaha LJ6 ARE
Yamaha's LJ series is home to one of its most played and respected acoustics, the LJ6 ARE.
It's a tasty little number, what with the Engelmann spruce top, gold hardware and general air of class, with a jumbo body and SRT Zero Impact pickup for big, resonant tones, both plugged and unplugged.
It's hovering at the top end of our budget price point - closer to £500 than £150 - but even costing that much, the LL6 is a snip.
"Almost unbelievable value for money for such a capable, quality electro-acoustic, especially in Sunburst!"
It never ceases to amaze us just how high the quality of entry level acoustics is nowadays. Fender's CD-60 is a case in point, an enduring budget guitar - street prices rarely stray above the £100/$230 - with quality to burn.
It's guitars like this - playable, pretty (it's available in a bunch of finishes, and there's even an all-mahogany version on the market now) and great fun to play - that are the foundation of life-long love affairs with the instrument.
It's no real surprise that it's one of Fender's best selling acoustics. It's so well put together, and priced so competitively, that the CD-60 basically sells itself. If you're thinking of dipping a toe in acoustic waters, you could do a lot worse than starting your unplugged strumming with one of these...
It's got the looks, and considering it's a fraction of the cost of a Gibson Hummingbird, Epi's affordable version has got the tones too.
If you're looking for a bit of that iconic Gibbo mojo but can't stretch to the several thousand pounds said mojo costs, then Epiphone's Hummingbird is an attractive viable alternative.
A great player, with plenty of personality and an admirable attention to the details that have made the Hummingbird an institution among players the world over, we'd be willing to wager that should you find one of these in your hands you'll struggle to put it down.
The F310 has been proving that affordable guitars can do the business for donkey's years now.
A spruce topped dynamo that punches way about its weight, it's perfect for smaller hands with a slim neck that beginners won't struggle to get to grips with and is built like a tank.
Tonally bright as a button and capable of surprising projection, it's capable of accompanying guitarists on a budget from bedrooms to open mics and beyond.
If you aren't aware of Sigma, you need to become acquainted with the brand, and quick. The narrow-waisted S000M-15 looks, at first glance, like the plainest of Janes, but in fact, its a player's guitar of the finest calibre.
Spend a little time, with it, and the guitar begins to exude its own special beauty. Should your tastes be for smaller-bodied guitars, or you describe yourself as more picker than strummer, the S000-15 will fit such needs admirably.
"Given its remit, as an instrument providing a certain style and sound within a competitive market at perhaps the most aggressive price point, the S000M-15 not only hits the bullseye, but splits the arrow down the centre with the next shot."
LAG Tramontane T100D
French maker Lag has been producing guitars for over 25 years, but it was only in 2005 that the company introduced its first acoustics and the popular Tramontane range three years later, in 2008.
As dreadnoughts go, this is a bit of a belter. It's loud, quick on the attack and packs a decidedly healthy dollop of warmth-infused bottom end without muddying the overall delivery. The build quality and detailing are excellent considering the keen price; it looks expensively stylish and sounds the business.
"A hearty welcome to the ranks of affordable, eager-to-please dreadnoughts."
Vintage VE2000GG Gordon Giltrap Signature Model
The VE2000GG is a curious looking guitar. Fans and followers of Giltrap will be familiar with its unusual shape, but first time viewers are struck by the sweeping lines and ultra-tight waist. In essence, somewhere between a Grand Auditorium and an 000; the upper bout more 000, the lower bout more Grand Auditorium.
It's not a loud guitar, particularly when compared to similar priced folk and OM shaped competitors, but what it lacks volume it makes up for in character. Rob Armstrong's unique body design creates a warm, sweet tone which bridges the gap between the rich, fullness and clout of a larger bodied guitar with the bright, sweet, clarity of a smaller body.
"A visually-unique electro suitable for collectors and acoustic enthusiasts alike."
BUY: Vintage VE2000GG Gordon Giltrap Signature Model currently available from:
We are professional reviewers. We must not allow ourselves to be blinded by superficial factors, such as the glorious tobacco finish that evokes pre-war juke-joints, or psychological ones, like the stamp of renowned Chicago gear god Washburn on the headstock. Also, we must stop drooling.
Let our ears be the judge: the WD7S is big, bold and boomy, like the sound a 'classic' dreadnought makes in your head. When you're strumming with a pick, the sound is crystal and authoritative without being abrasive, and when you apply fingers, the output softens up in convincing fashion, bringing in a really mellow warmth that revitalises riffs and implies this model is pretty expensive - which, of course, it isn't...
"When it comes to big performance on a tight budget, this workhorse from the Windy City comes up trumps."